Leading article: Little to celebrate

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The Independent Online

It is characteristic of Robert Mugabe's brazenness that, instead of passing in silence the 30th anniversary of his assumption of power, he marked the day with a gala ceremony. Apart from those who were paid to attend the festivities, it is hard to imagine who else might have felt there was anything to celebrate.

The disservice this 86-year-old dictator has done to his country is profound. Back in 1980, Zimbabwe was set to be a model for the rest of the African continent. The transition to black majority rule was not especially bloody and many old white colonists hoped to stay on in agriculture, maintaining Zimbabwe's role as an exporter of food. Fast-forward to today and Zimbabwe, the former bread basket of Africa, is now another of its basket cases. Since Mr Mugabe ceded a little power to his rivals in the Movement for Democratic Change last year, Zimbabwe's economy has stabilised and Weimar-style inflation rates have been tamed.

But most people of working age are unemployed, millions have fled to South Africa and other countries and millions of those who remain live on charity. The ruination of the white farmers is well known.

Zimbabwe is not resource-poor. It has simply been mismanaged and pillaged by Mr Mugabe and his various hangers-on, while the President has remained cosseted by many African leaders who are still in awe of his role as the liberator of his country. Tragically, Mr Mugabe evinces no awareness of his own hand in his country's decline. He is contemplating running again as President in 2013, when he will be nearly 90.

The added pity of his never-ending rule is that it has helped to shape an unfavourable image of a whole continent. Many people assume sub-Saharan Africa to be a succession of Zimbabwes ruled by variations on the Mugabe theme, and thus the downfall of Zimbabwe has eclipsed and overshadowed the continent's success stories, or more successful stories, such as Botswana, Rwanda, Ghana and indeed South Africa. Mr Mugabe deserves a slow handclap for his three decades in power, but it would be unfair if the disasters of his rule blinded us to the more hopeful prospects of other post-colonial African nations.

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